Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajiva has said that Burma is not trying to obtain nuclear weapons despite fears voiced in leaked US diplomatic cables that it was developing a programme with the help of North Korea.
“I can remember that Burma confirmed in an ASEAN-US summit that it wanted to see ASEAN as a nuclear-free region,” he told the Bangkok Post, referring to the regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The 10-member bloc is subject to a nuclear-free treaty that came into force on 28 March 1997. Burma formally joined the bloc on the 23 July that year.
Multiple defectors and various anecdotal sources have said however that the generals are attempting to acquire nuclear technology for a weapon. These concerns were heightened by a resumption of diplomatic links between Naypyidaw and Pyongyang, which carried out its most recent nuclear test in May 2009.
A colleague of Abhisit’s in the ruling Democrat Party, Kraisak Choonhavan, told DVB that he thought several ASEAN countries had sought nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, but expressed concern at the “political instability” in Burma and its ability to manage a nuclear reactor, even if for peaceful purposes, which could be “destabilising to the region”.
Abhisit’s government meanwhile has built a steady business relationship with the Burmese junta, securing a major Thai presence in the Dawei (Tavoy) port project in southern Burma.
Diplomatic relations are generally warm, and Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win recently held talks with his Thai counterpart, Kasit Piromya, in the Shan border town of Tachilek.
Thailand is one of the main investors in Burma and will be keen to avoid issuing negative statements about its neighbour that could jeopardise the relationship. It will also want to avoid pressure from the international community to press Naypyidaw on the issue of their alleged nuclear ambitions.
While the disclosure of the Burma cables by whistleblowing website Wikileaks were by no means a clear indication of any non-peaceful nuclear activity, they do reflect major concern in the US and elsewhere about the ruling junta’s intentions.